Saturday, November 20, 2010

The adventure of the week.... which we managed to get halfway to the Pacific ocean.

It all started when one of my friends offered to drive me and another friend to Seoul so we could pick up some groceries not readily available here.  Not a big deal, an hours drive...none of us have driven there before, but we have directions from someone who has, so no worries, right?  Theoretically correct.  So, off we go Thursday morning, blissfully unaware of the journey ahead.  We started out fine...past post, get on this road, go past two tollbooths and take the exit for 88.  This was where we inadvertently got off course.  Apparently that first tollbooth that we just thought was a freebee at the top of an on-ramp was an actual toll (that we were supposed to stop and pay...ooops...guess we'll pay the bill) that counted towards the directions.  We didn't think so, and so merrily passed through the first (but actual second) toll.  Continuing onwards, we did see in passing an exit for 88, but the Korean highway system is quite different, and so we just said "eh, there'll be another one soon", and continued onwards towards the next toll.  And so, we did come up on the second (third) toll, paid it, and continued.  This is where we first noticed something was wrong....we just kept going and going, looking for the exit, but there was none, and I mean none.  Something like 40km of highway, with no exits and no place to turn around. 

Uh oh. 

Then, we finally, FINALLY, come upon exits...and they are to Incheon, and Icheon, respectively.  Unfortunately, I seem to be slightly dyslexic or something, or perhaps my subconscious mind really wanted to see all the lovely pottery in Icheon again, and didn't want to head back towards Seoul, and so I said "turn here! That's our exit!", and we're on the road towards Icheon. 

Remind me never to navigate again!  Anyway, biting the bullet and admitting we are slightly lost, we stop at a gas station, where the very nice attendant amazing spoke enough English to give directions (I can only imagine how much study that took...three years of Spanish class later, and I don't think I could give directions out of a paper bag), only we were not quite Korean roadway savvy enough to figure out how to turn around.  Anyway, since his directions included "go about 30km and see exit for Itaewon", we set off and managed to continue in the wrong direction.  This is how we managed to find out that Munmak gas station is really nice.  Lots of food courts and they had live entertainment there.  Amazing.  I love Korea just for that. 

Anyway, after talking to the information desk via interpreter we got directions to continue up the road and make a u-turn at Wonju area.  Ok, so once we start seeing signs for Wonju, I'm starting to panic a bit along the lines of "we miss this exit, there's not gonna be one for like 50 more km" or something like that, and so I think we were supposed to take the third exit, but I direct us for the second.  We wound up at the Wonju tollbooth with no ticket, getting glared at because we didn't have one.  Off to the parking lot next to the toll office preparing to be yelled at. 

The lady comes out of the office, and we get directions in her broken English and our horribly inadequate Korean.  Off to the office to pay and get yelled at.  Once we pay, we again try to explain that we are lost and how do we get back to Seoul.  They were quite amused to find out we were from Uijeongbu, and wound up in Wonju, and managed to miss Seoul entirely. Anyway, we apparently looked incompetent enough that the manager of the office sent one of the office staff with us to direct us how to turn around and come back through the toll!  And it was a good thing they did, because, unlike the States, there are no interchanges where you just get off one exit, go over the bridge and get back on the highway in the opposite direction.  Anyway, once we'd managed to turn around and drop off our guide back at the tollgate, we head back (in the right direction), and did indeed managed to come up to Seoul.  This concludes the first 6 hours of the "lost in Korea" saga.  Incidently, these were the most entertaining hours of the whole trip.

The last two hours were just frustrating, and definitely not as amusing as the first six.

So, now in Seoul, which is a giant city, with all the traffic and such that goes along with a giant city, we proceed to head towards the Han river.  Big river, can't hardly miss it.  And we liked it so much that we drove over it about 6 times in search of the base.  Back and forth, with numerous "oh, shit, we probably should have taken that turn instead" as we drive by it, and cursing the bus lanes in the middle of streets that make left turns impossible.  We finally made it to Itaewon with the help of numerous phone calls  to both American and Korean ladies for directions and translations, at which point our driver was at the point of tears realizing she finally knows where we are and how to get to post.  Five minutes later, we are there, and elect to take the bus back home, and bring someone who knows how to get there and home back with us the next day to pick up the car.